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October 22, 2015 2 comments

Sprengisandsleið - A Trip Across Iceland

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Sprengisandsleið - A Trip Across Iceland
How do you start to plan a trip...? There's always a flash moment, that spark that gets you thinking, it could be a picture you've seen, someone reminding you of a place you've always wanted to visit, a particular road you've heard tales from… Sometimes that spark can fizzle out pretty quick, other times it can rage! Whatever happens, there's nothing quite like the excitement you get deep down in your gut when that idea hits, just keep the momentum going and before you know it, you're touching down in some far off place, brimming to get on your bike and see what the road offers up. I really don't know if there is an art or science to planning a bike tour. What destination matches your time frame? What do you want to feel? What do you want to see? What do you want to achieve? You can find beauty as you stare at the map, link up the places that interest you, count the miles as the map comes alive and you discover the places your route may take you. When I'd been on tours before, I'd had the luxury of choosing the destination and then the time frame to suit. For this trip however things were different, it was the time frame itself that was the spark - one week. Where were we going to go, what did we want to feel? As everything fell into place like a perfectly planned scientific experiment, all signs were pointing to Iceland. After a couple of days riding across the south towards Hella, we'd travelled through some pretty atrocious weather. It had gone from sunny and pleasant to wet and windy pretty quickly. Both me and George Marshall, who'd joined for the trip, had been watching the weather charts in the weeks leading up to our flight - sun, pleasant breeze, dry. The next week - sun, slight breeze, dry. Same the next. But as our flight came closer we could see it was starting to turn, it doesn't stay that good for that long in Iceland and as we checked before boarding the flight, our concerns were coming true and we could see over the next few days, the winds would pick up and the country would be awash with heavy rain. The thing with Iceland is, if you get some visibility the rewards of what you witness is mind blowing. The earth underneath you is alive, bubbling, hot, you really sense it, its pure and wild and massive. If visibility is poor then the excitement of what is cloaked from your eyes keeps you going just as well, the excitement of what you will see when it does finally clear, keeps you looking around every corner. Despite total wet out, sideways winds and poor visibility we were still stoked with every pedal stroke. We were heading from Keflavik in the south to Akureyri in the north; a mix of tarmac, gravel and rock strewn tracks. As we got closer to Hella, reaching our turning point, we took a left turn, leaving the south behind and heading north now, towards the desolate interior. As we rode along together on the empty tarmac roads, the landscape started to change, we were leaving the coastal planes behind and started to climb up towards the dessert plateau. Long, green, swaying grass started to give way to dead, still grey rock; the vast lava desert was opening up around us. As we went higher the clouds came lower, hurtling over our heads - In the occasional breaks, a beam of sunlight would burn through, lighting up a bend of a river or a distant volcano. This new environment was far from what we knew or were used to. By the 4th day our speed was down to 12km in 2 hrs. This well planned trip to cross the interior in five days was slipping away. We'd been blown off our bikes several times, had large unbridged glacial river crossings to wade across, suffered multiple punctures and with the constant 40mph wind and stronger gusts, even a simple task like removing your glove or jacket was potentially dangerous, should the wind blow it out of your grip. Although the air temperature wasn't too low, with winds this high the wind chill was in the minus figures and it wouldn't take long without proper protection before that wind chill would start to cause serious problems. We were adapting and learning to survive in this environment on the fly. Lay down the science, plan as you like from the comfort of your study or dining room table but the desert operates on its own schedule. When later that day we pulled up to a weather beaten mountain hut, sitting in the shelter of the cloud covered Tungnafellsjokull mountain, we were sternly warned not to carry on - a storm was hitting later that night. Thats when the science goes out the window. Its time for art. As George got cooking in the warm wooden hut, making use of what had been left from previous stranded hikers and bikers, we needed a new plan, we needed to be on a flight in two days, this storm was going to last at least three. A broken conversation over the big steaming cast iron stove in the creaky wooden hut and an offering of some very tasty fried rice with garlic and cashew nuts, we had a ride. A couple of workmen could give us a lift to the edge of the desert while they were checking a fibre optic cable, something they have to do every five years. We jumped up in the cab of their monster truck and as an Icelandic version of 'Rock'n Robin' played over a crackly radio, we watched in Sci-fi wonder as they took it in turns to ride the six wheel quad across this lunar landscape, checking the weather hadn't exposed their cable. Reaching the northern edge of the plateau, having caught up on time, we saddled up once again. Descending out of the harsh grey interior, dropping away from the clouds, we finally had space over our heads again. The monotone landscape we had become accustomed to, turned back to green green grass; horses grazed, there was civilisation again, pretty red farm houses. This vast glacial valley was opening out in front of us like an idyllic amphitheatre and on our final evening, we hummed down the hard pack road, hand railing the stream to our right as the long dusk settled in. The carnage that is the Icelandic interior left behind us. That night as the sky glowed pink, we were treated to a sheltered camp spot, a river to bathe in and water to cook with. Our trip had changed shape - a missed turn here, a storm blown in there. But here we were, the other side of Iceland, enjoying our last few chunks of chocolate, before we turned in for a still and peaceful nights sleep under the stars. Is it science or art? I guess its just whatever works at the time... ----------------------- Tom was riding his latest bike the DSS2, more information on his website - here Tom and George were using our Suffolk Rear Travel Panniers, the Isle of Skye Handlebar Bag, our Cambium Rubber Bar Tape, and the Cambium C15. An exhibition of George's photography from the trip can be seen at our flagship store in London, B1866, until Sunday 1st November.  Opening hours and contact details for B1866 can be found on the website here.
I was Stationed there 30 years ago. Cant wait to back someday and ride the ring road. what an awesome country!!!!
john kosicki May 23, 2016 at 7:30 PM
mmm...dessert plateau!

Nice article. Made me want to visit Iceland (the shop for desserts) and own a Donhou bike. Although when I saw the price of that at £3500 I'd probably settle for the Brooks luggage while I save up (so, a win for everyone). Would be good to seen what / how the items are arranged in the panniers.
Rob May 23, 2016 at 7:30 PM